Candlelight vigil commemorates victims of crime
Guest speaker shares powerful, personal story
In recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, dozens of community members banded together Monday night in support of the Center for Abused Persons’ 23rd annual candlelight vigil at the Charles County Circuit Courthouse in La Plata.
After Annette Gilbert-Jackson, the executive director of the nonprofit organization, gave her opening remarks, Charles County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) proclaimed the week to be Crime Victims’ Rights Week in the county. This year’s event was highlighted by guest speaker Toki Smith, whose powerful story captivated the audience as she shared her harrowing experience as a victim of sexual assault.
Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D) and Charles
County Sheriff Troy Berry (D), whose agencies often partner with the Center for Abused Persons to help support victims throughout the legal process, were among those who spoke.
“It is not easy being the victim of a crime … it takes incredible strength,” said Covington, who emphasized a need for more resources on a state and federal level.
He encouraged those in attendance to contact legislators so that victims will become a “higher priority,” noting a limited amount of funding for government-provided services.
“Let’s make this our cause,” he continued. “Crime victims in this country need our support.”
Berry echoed the same sentiments in his remarks.
“Some people in the community may feel they don’t have a voice,” Berry said. “We have to get out there and spread this word … you don’t have to suffer in silence.”
After Berry spoke, Smith shared her story. As a young girl, she told the audience, she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father and uncle, and had to move in and out with other family members she did not know well. She was raped again years later. After struggling to cope with the many traumatic experiences she had endured throughout her life, the support of trusted friends helped her come forward to authorities and stand up to her abusers.
“It is truly only by grace that I am still standing here,” she said. “… I had to be more than my circumstances. I just could not let them win.”
“My thought was, if I’ve been violated all these times, what is it that I can’t do,” she added.
Today, Smith, happily married to her husband of 22 years and a mother of three, works as a licensed clinical social worker after retiring from the U.S. Navy. She lives in Welcome and is a two-time self-published author. During her youth she escaped her troubles and found solace in reading fiction, and drew from her own life experiences to give her characters their personality. She said she refused to let her terrifying childhood define who she was.
“I never knew why I was moved around so much,” she said. “I just thought no one wanted me.”
I had developed a “faulty logic that taught me that everything was my fault,” she said. “... You are not to blame. Forgive yourself.”
Smith said she shared her story to help encourage victims to speak out, and to explain how important it is for victims to have the unyielding support of family and close friends, someone to just listen and validate their feelings.
“It helps them be stronger the next time that they tell it,” she said. “Every time they can tell someone and not get the backlash, they’ll be stronger and they’ll trust their own voice. It’s usually that we don’t trust our own voice, but you know your story. You know that you know it, and we can’t let people tell us that we don’t.”
Community members gathered at the circuit courthouse in La Plata for the Center of Abused Persons’ 23rd annual candlelight vigil in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Guest speaker Toki Smith speaks with Charles County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy after sharing her powerful story during the candelight vigil.
Guest speaker Toki Smith shares her powerful story during the candelight vigil.